Archive for the ‘NY Jewish Film Festival’ category

Inside the NYJFF: Belief at a crossroads in Waiting for Armageddon

January 28, 2009
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Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, Franco Sacchi (directors of Waiting for Armageddon) with Richard Peña

If you had any doubt that the grass-roots growth of apocalyptic Evangelical Christianity could have the power and influence to shape American foreign policy, the new documentary Waiting for Armageddon will open your eyes. Centering on little-examined player in the conflict over Israel–American Evangelical Christians who heap support and tourist dollars on the embattled region–the documentary takes pains to thoroughly explore a complicated subject.

“Our purpose was to open a debate and make the world aware of the [Evangelical Christian] point of view,” said one of the film’s directors, David Heilbronner, at his appearance after the film’s premiere during the New York Jewish Film Festival. The documentary tracks followers of “dispensationalist” theology–the belief that the end times are coming and defusing geo-political conflicts, especially in the Middle East, may go against Biblical prophecy. What you hear from true believers over and over in the film is that Israel must exist for Armageddon to come, even though that Armageddon means that Jews in Israel and everywhere must accept Jesus as their savior.

Exploring this central contradiction provides the dramatic backbone of the film. And despite the extreme, apocalyptic beliefs of many Christians featured in the film, co-director Franco Saachi noted that “there is a real pitfall in cultivating an us vs. them mentality. We really wanted the critical perspectives to come from within the movement.” To that end, the filmmakers interviewed Mel White, a prominent former ghostwriter for Billy Graham, and others who have strong internal connections to American Evangelicalism.

Waiting for Armageddon manages the difficult feat of balancing illuminating everyday stories (like the Evangelical couple who work for a jet-engine manufacturer who say “a lot of tears were shed trying to reconcile science with scripture”) with eye-opening pronouncements from major actors on the world stage (Ehud Olmert is shown making an personal appeal to the Christians: “Israel loves you”). Further, the film demonstrates how important pressure from Evangelical groups have been in influencing American policy in the Middle East during the Bush adminstration. As Christians, Muslims and Jews alike personalize a culture clash, the filmmakers’ aim to shape the film as “the story of the end of the world” becomes a stark, but dramatic, choice.

Waiting for Armageddon closes the New York Jewish Film Festival tomorrow night at 8:30 PM.

Making the scene at the New York Jewish Film Festival

January 27, 2009

Our photographer Susan Sermoneta was there:
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filmmaker/photographer Sadia Shepard and her brother

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See more and join our Flickr pool

Inside the NYJFF: A probing look at “Being Jewish in France”

January 23, 2009

Poised to become the definitive film on the complex history of French jewry, Yves Jeuland’s sweeping new documentary Being Jewish in France begins with the Dreyfus Affair and ends with contemporary charges of escalating anti-Semitism.

New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent Ronit Waisbrod spoke with the filmmaker.

Ronit Waisbrod: How did the idea of making a film about the history of French Jewry come about?

Yves Jeuland: Judasim and Jewish history interested me since I was a teenager. In 2004 I read Michel Winock’s new book La France et les Juifs (France and the Jews) and immediately wanted to tell that story with images and Michel Winock became the historical advisor of the film.

RW: In your previous films you addressed political and social issues such  as the history of the gay movement in France (Bleu blanc rose, 2002), the  controversy over gay marriage, the election process in Paris in 1991 (Paris à tout prix), and the the  history and evolution of the communist party (Camarades, 2004). Did the idea of ‘Being Jewish in France’ arise from the same sensibility to French historical and political processes?

YJ: In my films I am intrigued by politics, elections, the ways power affects the personality and choices of those who hold it.  I like to alternate between past and present, between historical documentaries based on archival research, and films that concern contemporary issues. I started working with archival material with ‘Bleu blanc rose’ (2002), ‘Camarades’ (2004), and then ‘Le Siècle des socialistes’ (2005). With ‘Being Jewish in France’ I expanded to a pre-20th century era. I love working with archival material and have interests beyond the history of minorities, or social and political movements. It is interesting that only now I perceive  my ‘gay, communist, socialist, and Jew’ films as a ‘collection.’ It was not planned as such.

RW: The film is 3 hours long; how did you decide what material to include and which to leave out?

YJ: Originally the film was meant to be two episodes of 52 minutes each. Even after editing, the film was almost twice as long. Luckily I had the freedom and flexibility to work out of format. I’m not sure if the film is complete but I am satisfied with the end result. There is also a version in four episodes of approximately 48 minutes each, with the same content but different editing.
When I made the film I tried to avoid an encyclopedic approach and concentrate of cinematography. In my opinion, an historical documentary reflects a point of view on a certain time period. It is subjective; and the more subjective you are, the more rigorous and honest you have to be.

A museum experience outside of the traditional space: more film from the Russian Jewish Theater

January 23, 2009

Yesterday, we wondered “What’s the main function of a museum?” One answer that occurred to me this morning is: to always be pushing beyond the boundaries of its traditional physical space. As the New York Jewish Film Festival wraps up over the next week, get ready to check out a fascinating exhibit that takes shape in different venues and media.

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Last week, I wrote about an exhibitChagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater–at the Jewish Museum that coincides with the screening of two historic, Soviet-era films in the New York Jewish Film Festival. Writing about the films featuring Moscow State Yiddish Theater innovator Solomon Mikhoels, Jewish Museum Senior Curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman says:

“GOSET’s exploration of the provincial aspects of Jewish experience, often considered with avant-garde aesthetic sensibilities in its productions, created a highly stylized and popular Yiddish modernism.  For Jewish Luck, director Aleksei Granovsky chose to renounce the carnivalesque features that had by 1925 become the hallmark of the Yiddish theater. The familiarity of the characters and setting for the film, which was shot, for the most part, on location in Berdichev and other areas in the former Pale of Settlement, instill an anthropologic quality in the motion picture.  Berdichev, a large Jewish community in the previous Russian empire, with its humble buildings, is seen as a hopeless and half-dead place and the  crude, grainy film quality to make Berdichev appear downtrodden and obsolete.  Lest the audience miss the message, Granovsky used cinematic tricks to highlight it; one scene shows the streets of Berdichev dissolving into a cemetery.  The graveyard is used as a metaphor for the shtetl.  “

Solomon Mikhoels appears in another important film screening this weekend in the NYJFF: The Return of Nathan Becker. In the film (the only Yiddish “talkie” that survives the Soviet era), an American Jewish bricklayer returns his Belorussian village, Socialist industrial productivity is exulted and shtetl life critiqued as grotesque and backward.

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The exhibit at the Jewish museum is an incredibly detailed testament to a moment in history where making art really was a matter of life-and-death, and the screening this Sunday allows a new dimension of understanding of this incredibly dramatic historical moment. Take them in together and enjoy a rare museum experience that transcends the traditional boundaries of the museum space.

Buy tickets to The Return of Nathan Becker: Sun Jan 25: 5:15

See Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater through March 22

Look who’s going to camp!

January 22, 2009

Congrats, Jonathan Milenko, Alice Simpson, and Michael Kingsley for being brave enough to share your hilarious summer camp stories on Facebook and win tickets to see Camp Girls at the New York Jewish Film Festival, plus a copy of the hilarious Camp Camp: Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies.

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But don’t worry, you can still relive those magical camp moments by join us for a screening of Camp Girls.

Buy tickets: Sat Jan 24: 6:30
Mon Jan 26: 3:30

Inside the NYJFF: Exploring The Fire Within

January 22, 2009

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“You don’t often ask a person of his religion the first time you meet; but in light of the film he made about the conversion process of a Peruvian community in the Amazon basin, I felt comfortable asking The Fire Within director Lorry Salcedo Mitrani whether he was Jewish. The story he told me revealed as much about the subjects of his documentary as his own personal history.

Lorry’s grandfather was a Sephardic Jew from Turkey. He was sent by his parents to New York to avoid persecution, did not like it and continued to Peru. There, he met his future wife, a Catholic woman with whom he started a family. He was one of two Jews in his town, and was always referred to as ‘el judio’ (the Jew) but did not experience anti-Jewish sentiments. They decided to raise the boys as Jewish and the girls as Catholic. Lorry, a descendant through his mother, was brought up Catholic, but had Jewish uncles and cousins with whom he went to synagogue, participated in Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish weddings and did not experience it as a bizarre situation.  Lorry’s grandfather died when Lorry was 12 and his memories of him are as the weird grandfather who spoke Ladino.

Still, Lorry’s interest in his own ancestry drove him to begin telling the story of the Jewish immigration of Peru in photography, starting in 1990. After researching in many family archives, he became aware of the Jewish community in Iquitos and found himself fascinated by the way the group combined indigenous customs with Judeo-Christian faith.  In 2002 Salcedo published the book (The Eternal Return: Homage to the Jewish Community of Peru) and decided that the story of the Jews of Iquitos needed to be made into a film. He met Ariel Segal, a South American born historian who was working in Iquitos documenting the lives and history of the community aka the ‘mestizos’. There was a genuine yearning of the people to formally convert. As a puzzle waiting to be completed, the film maker and the historian followed the hard work of the people of the congregation and the rabbis who worked together toward the goal of conversion and immigration to Israel.

The experience of Lorry’s grandfather is parallel to the protagonists in his film.  Both found a way to mix religions into their families. Salcedo became aware and interested in Jewish themes later in his adulthood and feels it was a part of his creative process in making the film.   He describes himself as a visual anthropologist who translates social stories and issues into artistic visual language.”

-Ronit Waisbrod, New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent

Check out The Fire Within at the Jewish Museum: Tue Jan 27: 3 & 6:30

[More about Lorry and his works on his website]

[From Nextbook: Hidden Roots in the Jungle]

Inside the NYJFF: Cultures collide in WWII-set Wedding Song

January 21, 2009

A selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival, The Wedding Song tells a story that deftly bridges the personal and political. A young Muslim woman, Nour, and her Jewish friend Myriam are close friends in World War II-era Tunisia, both preparing for marriage. But the Nazi occupation strains their fragile, cross-cultural connection.

NYJFF correspondent Ronit Waisbrod talked with filmmaker Karin Albou.

Ronit Waisbrod: Where did you get the inspiration for the story and was it based on a true story?

Karin Albou: At first, my main idea was to tell the story of a friendship between two teenagers, one Jewish and one Muslim who both live into a context of war. The film is built on a double narrative. The more political events drive the two girls apart, the more their position as women reunites them.

RW: Does your family have roots in Tunisia? Any autobiographical facets in the film?

KA: My family comes from Algeria. I got the idea of the historical  background because once I helped my grandmother clean the house (I was living with her in my 20’s) and I discovered letters of my grandfather who was a POW in Germany.

I studied in a French schoool what happened in Europe during  WWII. I thought that nothing had happened in North Africa. With these letters, I discovered that the Vichy government removed French nationality from all Jews from Algeria. They were French since 1870 and suddenly in 1940 they were not French anymore! I was in shock when I discovered that. Then I began to do historical research because I was passionate and I discovered that there was a German occupation in Tunisia. As a young adult living in Tunisia, I decide to write this script.

RW: What attracts you to Jewish themes?

KA: I don’t know. It is something I need to explore in myself at the moment. I don’t experience it as a “Jewish theme” but more as a personal and intimate issue I need to express. Sometimes I don’t even realize that my stories deal with Jewish themes.

RW: What are you working on now?

KA: I am working on an adaptation of Marguerite Duras’s diary. She describes how she cured her husband who comes back from Buchenwald. I would love to make a movie in the States, and also in Israel.

Buy tickets: Thu Jan 22: 3:45 & 8:30

Inside the NYJFF: Recovering “Our Disappeared”

January 20, 2009

Lots of us are guilty of furtively googling exes. But when filmmaker Juan Mandelbaum typed in the name of his ex-girlfriend Patricia, he was in for a shock: she was among thousands in Argentina who were kidnapped, tortured and then “disappeared” by the military during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Cine Latino en Nueva York blogger (and frequent filmlinc blog guest) Christian Del Moral spoke with the filmmaker about his process and inspiration for the film Our Disappeared.

Christian Del Moral: I did the same google search as you, “Patricia Dixon Argentina”, and I was happy to see that the first results were about “Our Disappeared” your documentary! A very personal and powelful one. Do you wish there was more information about Patricia back then?

Juan Mandelbaum: Thanks for your comments on the film. If I had initially found out more details about Patricia’s story perhaps I wouldn’t have embarked on my journey, and might not have made the film. The shock would have been equally strong, but I guess that sometimes it’s good if Google doesn’t give you all the answers and forces you to talk to people to learn more.

CD: Were you afraid that “Our Disappeared” might turn into another documentary about the people who were killed by the military. And what makes your film different?

JM: I always knew that it would be different. For one, these stories had never been told before and had particularly dramatic aspects that had never appeared in any other film. More importantly, I was searching for a very intimate look into this tragic period, told from my point of view and therefore inevitably unique.

CD: One of the key moments of the film, is when Ruth Weisz, a Jewish mother that lost her son and daughter in law, talks about the biggest curse in Jewish religion: not being remembered. Was that your main motivation for this documentary, to remember and honor your friends?

JM: Yes, the whole film for me has been an intense exercise in memory. I dug up all kinds of materials, photographs, clippings, outtakes from super-8 films, diaries that helped me remember my own story.  And by letting the families tell their stories I hope it will help remember not just these cases but the thousands of others who disappeared.

CH: You visited the Navy Mechanics School where Patricia might have been tortured and killed. What was going through your mind?

JM: We went there twice. The first time we had a number of shots to cover so I was almost numbed in the process. But there was a shot going down the same stairs that the detainees used that was important to me that was out of focus so on another trip we went again, this time with another cameraman who was doing some pick up work. And the second time it all hit me. As I went up the stairs I felt that Patricia and the others would have been clutching the banister as they were led blindfolded and shackled and they were taunted and hit by the military. At one point I just embraced my producer, who herself was almost taken there as an eight year old (!) and we both broke down. Incredibly the shot was out of focus again!  But it didn’t matter.

CD: How was the responds from the first screening at the NYJFF?

We had an almost full house, a wide mix of people.  Young, old, Argentine, Jewish film festival regulars.  At the end you always expect people to leave when the Q&A starts and no one left! The questions and reactions were great, everyone was very moved by the film.

Buy tickets to see Our Disappeared: Tue Jan 20: 8:30
Wed Jan 21: 3:45

Inside the NYJFF: The imaginary voyages of Empty Nest

January 20, 2009

“If I imagine a voyage, it will be to Israel,” Empty Nest director Daniel Burman told NYJFF correspondent Ronit Waisbrod, “and if I think of a party—[it will be] a bar mitzvah. In the case of choosing Israel [as a setting for the film], it has to do with personal feelings of my first trip—a fantastic reality and yet so abstract. I do not know what my Jewish sensibility is. I do not even want to know it, in order to avoid speculating.  Jewishness extends itself through my production and my life in a natural way and I do not wish to know about the mystery of its dynamics.”

Empty Nest follows the fortunes of playwright Leonardo and hyperactive housewife Martha as they struggle to redefine themselves and their relationship after their kids have grown. When the couple travels to Israel to visit their youngest daughter and her husband, their vacation at the Dead Sea becomes a floating, surreal experience. “We live permanently running away from reality in order to tolerate it,” Burman said of his creative approach. “The protagonist Dr. Spivach is like an imaginary friend that we had in our childhood. When we become adults, we still keep him in mind but do not talk about him. He is a person to whom we talk while waiting at a traffic light or standing in line at the airport. Our fantasy world is much richer than the one we call reality, which is so limited, sad, painful or boring.”

The filmmaker describes his experience at festivals as wide-ranging: “The film was in several festivals (Toronto, San Sebastian, Jerusalem, Sao Paulo, etc.) The reactions are very different. Every screening is like the first, and the nerves are never lost. The Jewish audience at the festivals are sometimes more sensible to certain points that other audiences overlook, and this sometimes makes the Q&A very attractive and sometimes very tense.”

Judaism has a way of creeping into each of the filmmaker’s works, whether he is aware of it or not. “If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said that the new film I am working on has nothing to do with Jewish themes. But it is always like this. I start deciding “nothing about Judaism this time” and at the end it does come out.”

-Ronit Waisbrod, New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent

Buy tickets to Empty Nest: Tue Jan 20: 1:30 & 6
Wed Jan 21: 8:30

Last chance: win tickets to NYJFF selection Camp Girls!

January 19, 2009

If you have a funny/horrible/unbelievable story or photo from your camp days, you could win tickets to see Camp Girls at the New York Jewish Film Festival, plus a copy of the hilarious Camp Camp: Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies.

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Enter now! The deadline is tonight at midnight!


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